Tramlines: Tennis's teenage wasteland

Mon, 11 Oct 16:44:00 2010

Do you recognise the player in the picture?

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If you correctly identified Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov then congratulations - you clearly know your tennis.

The young Bulgarian has been touted as 'the new Roger Federer' for a few years now; he won the juniors at Wimbledon and the US Open, and is clearly a natural and exciting talent.

However, don't berate yourself too much if you have never heard of him. He has only won seven ATP matches since then, and played a solitary Grand Slam match. He's not what you would call a household name.

But his significance? Well, at the age of 19 and five months, he is the highest-ranked teenager in men's tennis.

His ranking?

136.

That number is not a typo - the highest ranked teenager in men's tennis is currently comfortably outside of the top 100. In fact, there are only three teenagers in the top 200, with Canada's Milos Raonic (155) and Russia's Andrey Kuznetsov (197) being the only other two.

What does this mean for the future of the men's game? Well, with many of the top players still being relatively young, we should probably get used to seeing the same players competing for honours for a number of years to come.

It is true that the average age of a top-100 tennis player has been on the increase in the last 15 years, from a low of around 25 in 1995 to nearing 27 today, but the top players usually start cutting the mustard before their 20th birthday.

All the players who finished in the top five of the ATP rankings at the end of last season - Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Juan Martin Del Potro - were all in the top 100 before their 19th birthday, with Nadal making that elite group when he was just 16!

What's more, Djokovic and Nadal cracked the top five before their 20th; Murray was in the top 10 before his; and if you look back in the not too distant past, you might fondly remember great tennis names like Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Pete Sampras, Bjorn Borg, Mats Wilander and Michael Chang all winning Grand Slam titles as teenagers, as well as Nadal.

Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin also showed promise very early, reaching world number one when only 20, while Andre Agassi cracked the world's top five just two months after turning 18.

The likes of Dimitrov, Kuznetsov and other bright young things such as Bernard Tomic (17 and ranked 220), Ryan Harrison (18 and ranked 213) and Filip Krajinovic (18 and ranked 215) might take heart from 'late' starters like Federer who didn't win his first Grand Slam until just before he reached the grand old age of 22, but we need to be seeing more from the next generation of players quite quickly, or we can expect to see the same old faces dominate at the top of the rankings unchallenged for the foreseeable future at least.

The person who could of course benefit most from this dearth of new talent coming through is Nadal. When you consider that there are no clear future superstars on the horizon, the idea of the Spaniard, still only 24 years of age, going on and breaking Federer's Grand Slam record seems all the more plausible.

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RANKINGS

At the time of writing, the WTA have yet to update their rankings after Monday's finish at the China Open but as has been widely reported, Caroline Wozniacki is the new women's world number one. Given the fact that she has only just turned 20 ,it is a remarkable achievement. The women's game has always been younger than the men's game – there are currently five teenagers in the WTA top 100 – but Wozniacki still has plenty of time to improve which will hopefully see her wear the number one tag a little better than recent top-ranked players such as Jelena Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic and Dinara Safina. Vera Zvonareva will also jump up to a career-high ranking of three after reaching the final in Beijing.

In the men's rankings, David Ferrer is back in the top 10 after reaching the China Open final. John Isner is also back in the top 20 after moving up two places from 22th thanks to his run to the semi-finals in China. The biggest movers in the top 100 are Radek Stepanek (up seven places to 30th) and Marcel Granollers (up eight places to 66th).

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TWEETS OF THE WEEK

Tweet of the week: "Imagine how creepy the first guy to dress up as a clown must have been, where in hell did he get that idea?" No more words necessary - Janko Tipsarevic we salute you!

Runner-up: "When someone says: 'that's my home boy.' What does that mean?" Russia's Alina Jidkova perfected the English language many years ago, but it is nice to see her still trying to expand her vocabulary with some street.

Wooden Spoon: "GOLD number 2!!!! Still one more match to go" – One of a number of excitable tweets from Australia's Russian-born Anastasia Rodionova from the Commonwealth Games. Fair play to the girl and all, but it is hard to imagine her dreaming of Commonwealth gold when growing up on the streets of Tambov, 480km south-east of†Moscow.

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A-BOG v A-BOG

Poor Alex Bogdanovic has had some setbacks in his career but surely nothing is hurting as much as seeing injury scupper his chances of closing the gap in tennis's greatest rivalry.

Brit-Bog remains on the sidelines so Alex Bogomolov Jr picks up another point despite an unspectacular run to the semi-finals at a low-quality challenger in Sacramento.

Standings: A-Bog (US) 16-11 A-Bog (GB)

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THIS WEEK

For the first time this season the entire men's top 20 play in the same tournament at the Shanghai Masters – it should be a good one. The $3.24 million prize pool might have something to do with the elite field.

In comparison, the women are fighting for scraps with $220,000 tournaments in Linz and Osaka taking place. Serena Williams was due to compete in Austria but has been forced to pull out so Daniela Hantuchova is the top-ranked player in the draw while Anne Keothavong will take part for Britain. Over in Japan Australia's Sam Stosur is the top seed and Laura Robson carries British hopes after making it through the qualifiers.

Eurosport

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